Sunday, March 12, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 22

It took 22 weeks, but it finally happened.  The Washington Capitals had a bad week.  Not awful, as we will see in a moment, but there is only so much sugar available to coat an 0-3-0 week, the first time the Caps went without a point in a week of more than one game since week 23 of the 2014-2015 season and the first time they went three games in a week without a point since Week 4 of the 2014-2015 season, breaking a streak of 70 straight weeks of hockey without losing all three games in regulation in a week.

Record: 0-3-0

It is a good thing the Caps banked standings points over their first 21 weeks, because in Week 22 they faced two storm fronts.  One, the Dallas Stars, represented a team that certainly had the Caps’ number on Verizon Center ice.  Going into their contest last Monday, the Caps had not beaten the Stars on home ice since a 4-3 win on November 30, 2006.  The five-game losing streak (0-4-1) became six with the 4-2- loss.  Then there was the annual late-winter trip to the west coast.  The Caps had not beaten the San Jose Sharks in regulation time in San Jose since a 4-2 win on October 30, 1993, and they had just two wins (both in extra time) in 15 tries since then.  The 4-2 loss to the Sharks on Thursday made it 2-13-0, with one tie, since that last regulation win.  Then there were the Los Angeles Kings.  The Caps had not won in Tinsel Town since a 3-2 win over the Kings on December 14, 2005.  Their 0-4-2 record in the six games following that win became 0-5-2 when they lost to the Kings, 4-2 to close the week.

Offense: 2.00/game (season: 3.21 /game; rank: 3rd)

Two, two, and two.  The three games with two goals in each extended the streak of two-goal games to four and to five the streak of games with two or fewer goals scored.  In Week 22 the Caps had just one multiple-goal scorer (T.J. Oshie) and one player with three points (Kevin Shattenkirk).  Nicklas Backstrom was the only player to record a goal and an assist (1-1-2). Conspicuous by his absence from the points record was Alex Ovechkin, who is just 0-1-1 over his last eight games and has not scored a goal in nine contests.  He does not have an even strength goal in 17 consecutive games.  This qualifies among the driest spells of his career.

As a whole, the Caps did not lack for launching shots on net.  They averaged 57.74 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, more than their season average (56.09; numbers from  Getting those shot attempts to the net was the problem.  Washington averaged 27.04 shots on goal per 60 5-on-5 minutes, compared to their season average of 29.39.  It was no so much the 8.4 percent shooting percentage for the week that did the Caps in at 5-on-5, it was the lack of shots on goal on which that percentage was based.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 2.12 /game; rank: 1st)

The Caps give up two goals in three games in Week 21 and won three games.  In Week 22 they allowed 12 goals in three games – four in each contest – and lost three games.   It was not as bad as all that on defense, though.  The Caps held the three opponents to a total of 68 shots on goal, the first time they held opponents to fewer than 25 shots on goal in a month (they held four straight opponents to fewer than 25 shots, February 7-18).

It was even better in limiting attempts.  The Caps allowed the three opponents just 47.20 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, far below their 53.46 per 60 minute average for the season.  Shots on goal followed the same pattern, allowing just 22.91 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 compared to the 27.90 shot attempts per 60 5-on-5 minutes for the season (numbers from It ended up being a bit of a wasted effort, though, with the Caps allowing eight 5-on-5 goals for the week and finishing minus-three in goals for and against at fives.

Goaltending: 3.41 / .848 (season:  2.01 / .927 / 11 shutouts)

It was not a good week overall for the Caps in net.  Twelve goals allowed on 68 shots on goal makes for a difficult path for wins.  Braden Holtby had a particularly difficult week.  He was pulled after allowing three goals on 11 shots in 25 minutes of work against Dallas to open the week, and then he allowed four on 24 shots in the 4-2 loss to San Jose in the middle game of the week.  It was quite a slip on Holtby’s part, who in his previous six appearances before Week 22 was 5-0-1, 0.98, .963, with one shutout.

Philipp Grubauer had a better time of it in less than ideal circumstances, stopping all ten shots he faced in relief of Holtby against Dallas, but allowing three goals on 21 shots in the 4-2 loss to the Kings to end the week.  He had a respectable 1.96 goals against average in the limited duty, but the .903 save percentage was not especially impressive.  Grubauer is in a bit of a lull, too.  In his last two full-game appearances he stopped just 39 of 46 shots (.848 save percentage).

Power Play: 1-for-12 / 8.3 percent (season:  21.3 percent; rank: 8th)

The lackluster week did not spare the power play.  The 8.3 percent week was the worst for a week with more than one game played since Week 12, when the Caps went 0-for-12.  And even with that it was an uneven week.  The Caps shot in some bad luck against Dallas on the man advantage, recording 14 shots on goal in 7:34 of power play time without a goal to show for it.  They went 0-for-7 against the Sharks in the middle game of the week in 10 minutes, against without anything to show for it.  Then, against Los Angeles, they scored a goal on their only power play shot, courtesy of Jakub Vrana.  It was Vrana’s second power play goal in five games, more than Alex Ovechkin has had in his last 13 contests.

Speaking of Ovechkin, he was 0-for-5 shooting on the man advantage for the week, but he had four of those shots in the first game of the week, against Dallas.  Overall, the Caps had one goal on 22 shots in 21:39 of power play ice time.  They managed shots on goal and had next to nothing to show for it.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-13 / 69.2 percent (season: 84.0 percent; rank: 6th)

The power play struggles carried over to the other side of special teams.  Not that the Caps have been air tight killing penalties lately, but the 69.2 percent week was their worst in a multi-game week since Week 17, their second-worst week of the season in a multi-game week since Week 1.  It is part of a longer slide in penalty killing that has extended over the past seven weeks, over which the Caps are 53-for-67 (79.3 percent).

The Caps did shutout the Stars on the power play to open the week, but they allowed San Jose and Los Angeles to score two goals apiece on the man advantage.  It made it three times in four games that the Caps allowed an opponent two power play goals on the road.  Overall, the Caps allowed the three opponents four power play goals on 17 shots in 19:08 of shorthanded ice time.

Faceoffs: 106-181 / 58.6 percent (season: 50.3 percent; rank: 12th)

If there was one area in which the Caps did well in Week 22, it was in the faceoff circle.  Small victories.  The Caps won all three games and all three zones for the week.  In fact, the only “losing” point of the week was being below 50 percent in the defensive zone against San Jose (6-for-14). 

Five Caps took ten or more draws for the week, and all of them finished at 50 percent or better.  T.J. Oshie topped the five at 68.8 percent (11-for-16).  Jay Beagle (18-for-30/60.0 percent), Nicklas Backstrom (31-for-52/59.6 percent), and Lars Eller (24-for-43/55.8 percent) were over the 50 percent mark for the week, and even Evgeny Kuznetsov hit the 50 percent mark (15-for-30).

Goals by Period:

Nine periods for the week, and the Caps didn’t win any of them.  They split goals in four of the nine periods and lost the other five.  Overall they did not so much as break even in any period, finishing with the rare minus in goal differential over all three periods for an entire week.  The Caps did manage to maintain their plus-30 or better goal differential in the first (plus-38) and third (plus-30) periods, but the second period (even for the season) remains something of a mystery.

In the end…

By the standards this club has set for it over the past two seasons, Week 22 was about as bad as it gets, even with the annual death march through California and they mysterious inability to beat Dallas on their own ice sheet.  But there was a ray of sunshine in it in that the Caps had decent possession statistics.  They had the better of 5-on-5 shot attempts, and maintaining that going forward should yield better results than what they saw this week. 

All that aside, the Caps had better find a way to translate good underlying production numbers into better performance numbers like goals scored and goals prevented.  They are embarking on a four-game week against teams that pose a formidable challenge, from the last game in the California trip against Anaheim to a pair of Central Division powerhouses in Minnesota and Nashville, to a week-ending contest against a Tampa Bay team struggling to reach the postseason.  Week 21 saw the Caps’ lead in the league standings dwindle to a single point over the Pittsburgh Penguins, and if the Caps are to keep from dropping out of that top spot in the standings for the first time in two months, they will have to put Week 21 behind them quickly.

Three Stars of the Week:
  • First Star: T.J. Oshie (2-0-2, minus-2, 11-for-16 on faceoffs, six hits, three blocked shots)
  • Second Star: Kevin Shattenkirk (0-3-3, even, points in all three games, four hits, three blocked shots)
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-1-2, minus-1, 31-for-52 on faceoffs)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 68: Washington Capitals at Anaheim Ducks, March 12th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their three-game California road trip hoping to salvage one win out of the journey when they face the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night.  Washington, having dropped three in a row going back to their last home game, a loss to the Dallas Stars, have not lost four in a row since January 2015 and have not lost four in a row in regulation time since Games 8-11 of the 2014-2015 season (part of what would be a five-game losing streak).

The Ducks have been treading water over the past six weeks or so.  Since February 1st they are 7-8-1.  While the Ducks slipped from one point behind the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division to seven points behind through Friday’s games over that span, the Ducks are still in third place in the division and are fifth in the Western Conference. 

In the 16 games since February 1st, only one Duck is in double digits in points.  Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks’ leading scorer this season (12-41-53) is 5-10-15 over those 16 games.  He scored those points in bunches with four multi-point games, two of them of the three-point variety.  If there is an odd quality to his scoring over this stretch it is that in the four games in which he scored goals, the Ducks lost three times (including a two-goal game against the Arizona Coyotes).  This is the tenth full season in a row (not counting his 57-game rookie season and the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) that Getzlaf topped the 50-point mark.  And, he seems well on his way to finishing the season with his eighth 60-point campaign in his career.  It is all part of a resume that makes Getzlaf a player who ranks fourth in assists (561) and ninth in the league in points (794) since he came into the league in 2005-2006.  Getzlaf is 5-9-14, plus-2, in 13 career games against the Caps.

Rickard Rakell leads the team in goals over their last 16 games (seven), adding to his team-leading goal total for the season (28).  He is the only duck to date to have topped the 20-goal mark.  While Rakell has been the finisher for this team, he has not been much in terms of setting up scores.  With a scoring line this season of 28-11-39, he and the New York Rangers’ Michael Grabner are the only players in the league with 25 or more goals and 15 or fewer assists.  Rakell is one of the more efficient shooters in the league this season.  Of 259 skaters recording at least 100 shots on goal, Rakell is fifth with a 20.3 shooting percentage.  And don’t let him get going on shots.  Six times this season he recorded five or more shots on goal, and in four of those occasions he recorded goals, three of those being two-goal games.  Rakell is 0-0-0, minus-1, in four career games against Washington.

Cam Fowler leads the Duck defensemen in scoring this season (11-22-33), but his point production has been off since February 1st.   After going 11-16-27 in his first 52 games this season, he is 0-6-6 in 16 games since February 1st.  The absence of goal scoring is something that doesn’t seem to matter when looking at the games this season in which he did record goals.  Anaheim is just 5-4-2 in games in which Fowler has goals this season.  Nevertheless, Fowler is a minutes-eater.  He has 34 games this season skating at least 25 minutes.  That ranks eighth in the league.  Fowler is 0-6-6, minus-9, in nine career games against the Capitals, that minus-9 being the worst he has over his career against any Eastern Conference team.

1.  Since February 1st, the Ducks’ special teams have been very good and very bad.  The good is the penalty kill, which is 49-for-55 over those 16 games (89.1 percent, third in the league since February 1st).  At the other end, the power play is an anemic 3-for-42 (7.1 percent, worst in the league over that span).

2.  The Ducks have had six players record more than 50 minutes in penalties this season, including one no longer with the team (Joseph Cramarossa logged 51 penalty minutes before being claimed off waivers by Vancouver): Jared Boll (80), Josh Manson (67), Kevin Bieksa  (61), Corey Perry (57), and Ryan Kesler (57).

3.  As befits a team that takes so many penalties, the Ducks are tied with the Winnipeg Jets for the most shorthanded situations faced this season (234, through Friday’s games).

4.  Trailing after two periods is no recipe for success in the NHL, but it has been particularly difficult for the Ducks to win in such situations.  Only the San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers have fewer wins when trailing after two periods (one apiece) than the Ducks (two), and Anaheim has the fourth-worst winning percentage when trailing after 40 minutes (.071/2-19-7).

5.  Anaheim has trouble generating offensive pressure as reflected in shot attempts.  Their shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (54.70) ranks 20th in the league.  On top of that, their Corsi shooting percentage is 3.88 percent, 19th in the league (numbers from  Not getting a lot of attempt and converting on comparatively few of them at fives is a combination that kills offensive production.

1.  The loss in Los Angeles on Saturday night was the Caps’ tenth road loss in regulation time this season, matching the total they had in all of the 2015-2016 season.

2.  The Caps, who lead the league in wins when scoring first, lost both games of this road trip having scored the game’s first goal.  They have dropped into second place in the league in winning percentage when scoring first (.766/36-7-4).

3.  In 11 games since the February break, the Caps scored two or fewer goals nine times, averaging 2.18 goals per game.

4.  Penalty killing in road games has deteriorated for the Caps recently.  The two goals they allowed Los Angeles on six power plays makes it three times in the last four road games the Caps allowed two power play goals.  In those last four road games, Washington is just 13-for-19 killing penalties (68.4 percent).

5.  Washington has allowed four or more goals in three of their last four road games.  They allowed four or more goals in just five of their previous 29 road games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Anaheim: Corey Perry

From 2005-2006 through last season, only four players in the NHL scored more goals than Corey Perry (330).  Only six players had more 30-goal seasons.  That was then, this is now.  Perry is in the midst of what might be his most disappointing season in a 12-year career, all of which has been spent with the Ducks.  Perry managed just seven goals in his first 30 games, and if anything, he is slowing down.  He has just five goals in his last 38 games, one in his last 12 contests.  His shooting efficiency has, by his career standards, been awful.  Before this season Perry was a 13.6 percent shooter, but this season he has just 12 goals on 181 shots (6.6 percent).  He has been particularly cold at home of late.  Perry has gone his last 17 home games without a goal, his last one coming back on December 11th in a 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.  Perry is 6-8-14, minus-1, in 14 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom did not record a point against the Los Angeles Kings last night.  That makes two games in a row he did not post a point, and that is an uncommon occurrence for Backstrom this season.  Only six times in 67 games has Backstrom gone two of more games in a row without a point, and, with the Ducks on tap for Sunday night, he has not gone three games without a point since Games 11-13 in early November.   Backstrom getting on the score sheet matters for the Caps.  He has points in 41 of 67 games this season, and in those games the Caps are 31-5-5.  They are just 13-11-2 when Backstrom is held off the score sheet.  Backstrom’s history in California is a bit odd.  In 18 games played on the west coast in his career against San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim, he is roughly a point a game player (4-12-16), but he is also a minus-10 and has only three “plus” games in the bunch.  What he has been able to do is put up points in Anaheim.  In five career games against the Ducks in Anaheim, Backstrom is 1-6-7, even, with three multi-point games in that group.  Overall, he is 5-10-15, even, in 11 career games against the Ducks.

In the end…

There is “playing well,” and there are the rewards.  Not every time does the former beget the latter, and it is tempting to say that last night was such a case for the Caps in Los Angeles.  The Caps did out-attempt the Kings substantially at 5-on-5, topping Los Angeles by a 35-28 margin (55.6 percent Corsi-for).  But converting those attempts into shots  was a less successful enterprise, the Kings recording 15 shots at 5-on-5 to 13 for the Caps.  It translated into a 3-1 advantage in goals for the Kings at fives.  It had the look of a team playing well, but not well enough against a team scrambling to reach the postseason (the Kings are three points out of a playoff spot).

Anaheim is not in as dire a situation as the Kings, but the Caps are not playing at a consistently efficient level, either.  The challenge here is to try to get an offense untracked against a good defensive team (seventh in scoring defense) and, should they get a lead, to hold and expand on a lead.  That’s the sort of game management fundamental that has eluded the Caps lately and one they need to refresh as the playoffs approach.

Capitals 4 – Ducks 2